The Way It Was (FTD CD/Book)

Approaching almost a dozen releases, Follow That Dream, the official Presley collector's label, gets a little more ambitious with their "The Way It Was" photo book and CD package. It's both a joy to behold and a frustration to the Elvis scholar.

The book portion of this "audiovisual documentary" is laid out in the classy, understated style of those great Ger Rijff Presley photo tomes and houses several unissued black and white and color snaps covering Elvis' return to Vegas in the summer of 1970, along with multiple frames drawn directly from the recent reedited version of the MGM documentary "That's The Way It Is." Apparently most of the photos come from the collection of Sharif Hanna, while RCA's Presley producer Ernst Jorgensen supplies the CD's twenty-five tracks, twenty-one previously unissued.

It begins with an odd introduction, typos and all, penned by former crony Joe Esposito, odd because "Diamond Joe" offers a detailed look at Presley's August, 1969 debut in Las Vegas. He adds nothing new or noteworthy to Elvis' third "Sin City vacation." How interesting it might have been to note whether Presley got bored with yet another month's residency at the International Hotel, if MGM's ever-present cameras were irritating, or even why that ugly 1960's LP bonus photo got multiple copies taped all over the ceiling of Esposito's office!

The images present Elvis at his "mature" peak, a tanned, handsome and confident performer. The stage suits are nowhere near as gaudy as they would later become and the body inside them is as lean as an athlete's. But there are some problems within the book's ninety-five pages.

Like Ernst's earlier "Elvis Day By Day" book, there are several shots printed in reverse, often an indicator of a shoddy production. In fact, the very first color picture, on page 5 of "The Way It Was," is reversed! At least six more crop up on pages 7, 60, 64, 65, 70 and 91. Since when did James Burton become a left-handed guitarist? Since when did the Shure brand PA speakers on stage spell the company name "Eruhs"?? Absolutely flabbergasting is the identical image appearing on both page 67 and pages 80/81. I thought such gaffes only happened in Ed Bonja photo books. This is sloppy and inexcusable, especially when the book costs approximately $50 USD.

On the bright side, most of the text is pleasingly informative, listing specific details of each rehearsal and officially recorded concert which Jorgensen omitted from his "A Life In Music" session book. A positive "Variety" review of Elvis' August 10 opening gig is reproduced in full. There are more typos here and there (it's the "Peter Gunn Theme") and one wishes that someone, somewhere, would notice that Elvis finishes off his July 15 MGM rehearsal alone on piano playing an instrumental medley of "I'll Take You Home, Kathleen" coupled with "My Wish Came True." All you need is ears to hear this.

Popping the CD into one's player greatly improves this FTD experience. Running from the unheard July 14 rehearsal through every recorded event to the August 13 dinner show, one gets a concise distillation of what Elvis is trying to put together for his fans. Whereas the segments from MGM rehearsals are loose as a goose, a private, cameras-barred session at RCA's studios on Sunset Boulevard is mostly all business. Each displays the evident passion Elvis has for performing and the respect he gives his core rhythm band.

In particular, the version of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" is superb, a vast improvement on the "import" CD "Get Down And Get With It," with Elvis' wild acoustic guitar and Latin-esque vocals romping alongside James Burton's super, tremolo-laden guitar leads. "Hugh Montenegro, man," Presley yelps at the finish, referencing the arranger and songsmith to such classic spaghetti western soundtracks as "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," not to mention Elvis' own "Charro," cut in the fall of 1968.

The five selections from the "serious" RCA rehearsal are well-recorded, much superior to the others, and exciting due to Presley's intense focus. The opening night, full dress rehearsal rendition of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" sports an astonishing vocal, one that continues to stun 21 years after its unleashing on the 1980 "Elvis Aron Presley" box.

Naturally, the live show segments are a treat. In the last year RCA/BMG has given the fan three of the six professionally taped, August, 1970 sets, and here one enjoys seven tracks from the other three (the dinner shows of August 11-13). Aside from typical humorous Elvis banter between numbers and "The Wonder of You" from 2000's "Greatest Hits Live" collection, a great, bluesy "Heartbreak Hotel" really hits the mark.

Hopefully, the same bullseye will be made in future FTD projects.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA